by Emma Howes January 17, 2022
With so many different eras, corrupted cities, synth waves, and high-tech possibilities, the cyberpunk style has become one of the most popular genres.
Whatever it's in video games, anime, music, shows, or movies, the influence of the futuristic genre has been growing for several years.
Easily identifiable with a style based on cybernetics, human implants, big corrupted cities full of neon lights, and prominent advertising panels everywhere, these characteristics make the aesthetic unique.
Nowadays, it's no longer a surprise to see fans love their LED lights, get interested in futuristic clothes, or set up their personal space with a dystopian feeling, despite its dark future theme.
In this article, we'll introduce you to the aesthetic, his different inspirations, his origins and background and finally, the main concepts.
The Cyberpunk Style describes certain media elements such as literature, film, and video games inspired by popular movies like Blade Runner (1982), Neuromancer (1984), and other dystopian fictional works.
The name was first coined in 1995 when it was applied to computer gaming and later on used for various science fiction-related genres such as cyberpunk and cyberfantasy.
Cyberpunk is defined as "a literary genre characterized by advanced technologies, strong anti-authoritarian themes, and violent or otherwise dark subject matter".
The central theme of these novels revolves around the interaction between people and technology.
Specifically, it focuses on the relationship between individuals and their surroundings.
The genre is often described as a pessimistic outlook on human nature, with many authors focusing on technology's effects on humanity.
It combines high-tech dystopia with social issues such as corporate greed, environmental destruction, and cultural pessimism.
The culture usually depicts a future society where life has become commodified, and cyborgs have replaced individuals.
Big corporations and artificial intelligence govern these societies in most cases.
They live in underground cities called metropolises and spend their lives plugged into the Matrix through futuristic virtual reality headsets.
People who do not fit this lifestyle are considered freaks.
Although some punks are apathetic towards human beings, others believe they must be saved because they are still capable of compassion and creativity despite being enslaved by technology.
Some writers have noted the influence of real-world events, especially those related to environmental pollution and the development of nuclear weapons (e.g., Fallout 3 and Fahrenheit 451).
These influences are a source of inspiration for these writers, even though they are not the main topic.
Other interesting traits present in the genre include self-destruction, nihilism, alienation, and a deep sense of fearfulness regarding the future.
However, despite its negative view of humanity, the literature tends to be optimistic about advancing technology and scientific discoveries.
Nevertheless, some authors have commented that they cannot write about the positive side of technological progress.
Because by doing so, it would contradict the negativity found in most fiction.
Another aspect separating this dystopian style from similar science fiction genres is its focus on realism.
Many stories tend to occur in urban settings while featuring characters who interact with machines in a realistic fashion.
Because of this emphasis on realism, stories can look somewhat different from other sci-fi films or television shows.
For example, they usually feature more practical clothing and equipment than futuristic garments and accessories (such as space helmets) common in classic science fiction.
The original source of literature and art comes from the world of science fiction.
It has been said that the concept of cybernetics originated in the 1950s. This term refers to the study of control systems and feedback mechanisms.
A notable example of cybernetics is the feedback loops seen in natural phenomena, such as the movement of the Earth's axis.
It was not until the 1960s that the term started being used by science fiction writers and artists.
One of the earliest examples is William Gibson's novel Neuromancer.
Although Gibson did not refer to himself as a specialist of the genre writer, he included many characteristics of this subgenre.
Therefore, his work had a significant impact on the cyberpunk style.
Neuromancer was published in 1984 but became well known only years later due to the popularity of cyberpunk literature and films.
The book details a near-future setting filled with high-tech crime and corruption among criminals.
In contrast to much early literature, which focused on technology in general, Neuromancer is more specific.
In fact, it is considered one of the forefathers of the cyberpunk subgenre.
There are several important aspects about Neuromancer that help define the aesthetic.
For instance, language and slang are widespread in these dystopian works.
However, there are some exceptions, like the word "metaverse" that was actually introduced in Snow Crash (1992), although it was already used before then.
Another one is the popular term "cyberspace," first introduced by Susanne Ussing and Carsten Hoff in the late 1960s.
Also, Bruce Sterling wrote a book called Mirrorshades: The Cyberpunk Anthology (1986), in which the word "mirror worlds" appears without any context.
Therefore, we could say that using words like "metaverse", "cyberspace", and "mirror worlds" is common in cyberpunk literature but not necessarily mandatory.
The central concept is cybernetics, which refers to devices that control physical objects via electrical impulses, such as robots and computer networks.
In the 1950s, Norbert Wiener developed the field of cybernetics, which studies systems consisting of many parts that interact together.
Wiener's ideas are still relevant today.
For example, when you turn your smartphone off, its battery drains slowly over time.
Wiener coined the term "feedback loop" to describe how energy flows through a system like this.
In the same way, authors often use "feedback loops" to describe how information moves through their fictional worlds.
These loops are both visual and narrative elements.
Visual ones include surveillance cameras (e.g., in Cowboy Bebop), traffic lights (e.g., Blade Runner), and police scanners (e.g., Ghost in the Shell).
And narrative ones include computer programs (e.g., Neuromancer) and the Internet (e.g., Snow Crash).
Another important theme is the problem of alienation.
Alienation occurs when people feel disconnected from one another or the natural environment around them.
It can also refer to those who do not fit into traditional social groups.
Alienation is sometimes used as a metaphor to represent modern society.
In Blade Runner, the central character, Rick Deckard, is an ex-blade runner who hunts down replicants who have escaped from human slavery.
He eventually learns that they are not biological humans but artificially created replicas.
This discovery leads Deckard to an existential crisis because he feels alienated from humanity.
This feeling of alienation has become even stronger since the advent of digital technologies.
For instance, the Internet allows people to communicate easily across vast distances.
However, it also means that we can never truly escape our online identities.
The Matrix series represents another form of alienation in cyberspace.
In these films, Keanu Reeves plays Neo, a man living in a dystopian future world where everyone lives inside the Matrix simulation.
Neo discovers that the real world exists only for him.
He becomes completely isolated from the other inhabitants of the Matrix.
As Neo descends deeper into the Matrix, he discovers that his true self lies outside of the program.
This idea of alienation resonates well with the cyberpunk themes.
Many stories occur in cities where people live crammed in densely populated buildings.
But the main difference between these two settings is that cyberpunk takes place after modern technology has arrived, whereas sci-fi usually deals with futuristic societies.
The techie post-modern genre has always been associated with big business and governments.
This association stems from William Gibson's first novel, The Difference Engine.
However, if you read the book carefully, you'll notice that there are several hints that point out that something is wrong with the current state of society.
These points all relate to the concept that society moves more towards corporate control than individual freedom.
Other examples of big business appearing in fiction include Deus Ex and Thief.
Deus Ex is set in 2029 when corporations have total control over the global economy.
A single company called Human Interface Unlimited controls most of its population through its holographic interface system.
Some of the characters are actually employees of HUI.
They must complete tasks within a certain amount of time to receive better paychecks.
Thief concerns a private detective named Garrett who investigates crimes committed by corporations, particularly mega-corporations like the megacorps.
The protagonist of Thief is tasked with stealing data from a major corporation.
He uses the information to blackmail the corporation into funding a project that helps stop crime.
The game is set in the near future, but it still reflects some of the problems that currently exist in society.
For example, the megacorp employs mercenaries as security guards.
It's clear that society doesn't have any respect for human life when it pays its workers to kill innocent civilians.
This is one reason why I believe the setting of Deus Ex and Thief is a part of the cyberpunk style.
Both novels were written before the Internet gained mainstream popularity, but they contain ideas that directly reflect today's reality.
Overall, the cyberpunk style is a combination of high-tech and conspiracy.
While the genre is often described as pessimistic, it focuses on technology's effects on humanity.
Although authors are not always optimistic about scientific discoveries, the literature genre features advanced technologies that benefit humans.
The novels' main theme often revolves around the interaction between people and technology, specifically focusing on the relationship between individuals and their surroundings.
The stories also tend to be realistic in terms of clothing and gear featured and societal collapse or decay.
These last years the dystopian style even added a massive player in the genre with Cyberpunk 2077, a video game where events take place in Night City.
With 4 different eras in the genre and completely different setups and clothes styles for each one, the cyberpunk style is not even close to being out of ideas.
And you, have you noticed a specificity of this genre?
Feel free to share it with us on Twitter!
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